W.Va. mental health pioneer Mitchell-Bateman dies 

Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman, a mental health pioneer in West Virginia and the namesake of a state-run psychiatric hospital, has died. She was 89.

Family members tell media outlets that Mitchell-Bateman died Wednesday evening at Charleston Area Medical Center's General Hospital. Her daughter, Donna Taylor of Charleston, said she had recently developed pneumonia.

"She was amazing," Taylor said. "She and my dad instilled in me the importance of education and how it can improve your lifestyle and impact those around you."

In 1962, Mitchell-Bateman became the first black woman to head a state agency when she was named director of the former state Department of Mental Health. She held that position for 15 years, until then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller merged the agency into the larger Department of Health.

Mitchell-Bateman resigned as director and became chair of the Psychiatry Department of Marshall University's medical school.

Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington was named for her in 1999.

According to the hospital's website, Mitchell-Bateman was an advocate of community health centers and placing mentally ill patients in facilities near their homes. She also developed a program aimed at giving hope to patients who had been considered untreatable.

Daughter Danielle Shanklin of North Lauderdale, Fla., said her mother fought for equality and justice.

"She was sent here, I believe, as a guardian of people," she said.

Born in Brunswick, Ga., Mitchell-Bateman was the daughter of a minister and a registered nurse. At 12, she helped Red Cross volunteers after a tornado ripped through her hometown. She decided then, in an era when even her own mother wondered if it was possible, to become a doctor.

She studied at colleges in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. While interning in Philadelphia, she landed a job in West Virginia as a staff physician at Lakin State Hospital, then a hospital for black mentally ill patients.

She married therapist William L. Bateman, then left Lakin to practice medicine privately and study psychiatry. She later returned to Lakin and eventually became its superintendent.

There, she helped improve salaries and limited the employees' work week to 40 hours.

Mitchell-Bateman changed the way patients were housed, integrating those with low social skills with the larger population. She also gave patients training for jobs at the hospital and paid them hourly wages, replacing the chips they had been given to redeem at the hospital canteen.

In 1973, Mitchell-Bateman became the first black woman to serve as vice president of the American Psychiatric Association. She was also appointed to the President's Commission on Mental Health, a group that helped create the 1980 Mental Health Systems Act.

Mitchell-Bateman's husband died in 2004. She is survived by seven children and 10 grandchildren.

A celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at Bream Memorial Church in Charleston.

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